Staff photo by Erin O. Smith / Members of the Unity Group of Chattanooga march with a banner during the MLK Day march Monday, January 21, 2019 in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Despite the freezing temperatures, a few hundred people showed up to march or watch along the route Monday.

Chattanooga's annual weeklong celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. will be held virtually this year as the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Hamilton County.

Unity Group of Chattanooga is hosting a series of presentations and discussions in the days leading up to Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday, Jan. 18, as part of the 51st annual celebration in the city.

Unlike previous years, which included a prayer breakfast at a local church and a march through the city, the events of the 2021 celebration are being held entirely online. The festivities began Jan. 11 with a presentation from the Tennessee Poor People's Campaign entitled "14 Policy Priorities To Heal the Nation: A Moral and Economic Agenda for the First 100 Days."

Participating groups include the Unity Group, the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Branch NAACP, Chattanoogans in Action for Love, Equality and Benevolence and Community Control Now, among others. Links to the Zoom meetings can be found on the Unity Group's Facebook page.

Kevin Muhammad of the Nation of Islam said several presentations this year focus on the potential of the municipal elections on March 2. In 2016, Muhammad presented the first "People's State of the City" address in response to the city mayor's annual address. The response included possible actions to help Black and low-income communities in the city.

King week events

Thursday, Jan. 14

- 11:30 a.m. on Zoom, “Juvenile Justice,” with Rosalyn Leavell-Rice, regional administrator of Tennessee Council on Children and Youth-Southeast

- 7 p.m. on Zoom, “Politics Without Economics Is Symbols Without Substance” with Kevin Muhammad

Friday, Jan. 15

- 7 p.m. on Zoom, “Tax Breaks, Transparency and Public Accountability,” presented by Chattanoogans in Action for Love, Equality and Benevolence (CALEB) Economic Mobility Task Force

Saturday, Jan. 16

- 10 a.m. on Zoom, “Praise Through Pandemic” prayer breakfast with Pastor Timothy Careathers, Westside Baptist Church

- 6 p.m. on Zoom, “Community Control Now: The Fight Continues,” by Community Control Now Coalition

Sunday, Jan. 17

- 5 p.m. on Zoom, “Reimagining the Dream in 2021,” with the Rev. Charlotte S.N.N. Williams, Eastdale Village Community United Methodist Church

Monday, Jan. 18

- 10:30 a.m. on Zoom, OMA Day of Service, presented by the city of Chattanooga’s Office of Multicultural Affairs and UTC

- 12:30 p.m. on Zoom, 51st annual Memorial March (virtual)

- 5 p.m. on Zoom, “Transformation and How It Relates to Alternative Facts,” Dr. Ken Chilton, Tennessee State University associate professor

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"This year, at the MLK week, we are doing an analysis on the mayoral race and the City Council race because we're four years down the road now," Muhammad said. "And instead of things getting better in our community, they're getting worse."

Muhammad's presentation, "Politics Without Economics is Symbols Without Substance," is scheduled for Thursday at 7 p.m. on Zoom.

CALEB's presentation on Jan. 15 focuses on corporate tax incentives, such as "payment in lieu of taxes" and "tax increment financing" agreements, which the organization said often get approved without scrutiny despite involving public funds.

"Last year we saw a vigorous debate about where we put city money," said Geoff Meldahl, a CALEB delegate from Ironworkers Local 704, in a statement. "But we rarely examine why our budget is as limited as it is, and tax incentives are a big part of that. We want to make sure candidates for city office understand that unscrutinized giveaways can't continue and to empower their constituents to demand greater accountability."

The week will conclude Monday, Jan. 18, with the city's Office of Multicultural Affairs hosting a series of virtual tributes to King starting at 10:30 a.m. The Unity Group will follow with the annual march in a virtual format.

Contact Wyatt Massey at or 423-757-6249. Follow him on Twitter @news4mass.